When Coach Vickie, as she calls herself – Vickie Bevenour of Raleigh, N.C. – works with clients, she finds herself having to ignite their "inner leader."
That involves helping them to understand why they have been successful so far in their career, how to promote those strengths to others – and also, since change is often required to move up the ladder as the competition becomes tougher, what they must do to improve.
The topics they touch on aren't new: Strengths, values, impact, authenticity, and personal branding. Indeed, by now those have a dreary quality, even if important. But a hallmark of Ms. Bevenour's coaching style is that she has developed a series of tools that offer a practical way to give vitality to these sometimes vague concepts.
Her clients are results-driven, and so is she. As she coached others, she wanted a path – something like a formula – that could help them to improve. The exercises are that formula.
She starts with strengths, which she defines as what you love to do and what you do well that someone would be willing to pay for. Gallup's StrengthsFinder assessment can help you with that, and she recommends it. But it's based on self-assessment, and so her first exercise prods you to go further, soliciting outside input.
E-mail 20 colleagues and ask them, "What do you think are my three greatest strengths?" You'll end up with about 60 words that define you. Group them into categories, such as how you drive for results or lead your team. From those buckets, pick three strengths that seem the most accurate and powerful. Then check your assessment by sending the 60 words out to a few close individuals and asking them to help you narrow it down to three. Discussing it with them may refine your list.
But it doesn't end there. A key component of her approach is making sure others are aware of your abilities. "Nobody likes to brag. But the truth is that, as a leader, you need to be able to tell people precisely and succinctly what you do for the organization," she said in an interview.
The second exercise guides you to build three strengths statements – each no more than a sentence that describes a strength. These will be employed to remind colleagues of your value to the organization. She gives as an example when somebody extends thanks for your work on a project. The normal response would be, "You're welcome." The new response, armed with these statements, might be, "In this project, I was able to maximize the effort of people, which is what I do best." It's not bragging but reinforcing to the other person what you like to do – and are good at.
She notes it's helpful to have a statement that affirms your dedication and effectiveness with results, another that highlights how you interact with people, and a third that stresses what you really like. So review your strengths and the three strength statements to see whether they handle such situations.
You also need to be able to communicate your impact. For that, she advises CAR stories, an acronym for the challenge you tackled, the actions you took, and the results you achieved. She suggests writing two a month from your recent accomplishments, which after a year will build an inventory of 24 active impact statements.
Take time in creating each story to focus carefully on the challenge, action and result – including a number that offers a measure of what was accomplished. Then whittle those ideas down to no more than five sentences – probably one for the challenge, and two for each of the other elements. She says that even the fellow on the injury reserve list for the Super Bowl champions gets a ring and can claim some measure of involvement in the victory, so be alert to team as well as individual accomplishments.
A third factor to communicate to others are your values – as she puts it, "the rock you stand on." In her book Unleashing Your Inner Leader, she provides a common list of 116 words, such as bravery, calmness, enthusiasm, perseverance and sensitivity. The idea is to pick three to five values that exemplify you and, again, check with others, asking at least two people who know you well to supply their choices. Then assess how aligned you are with those values, and where you diverge. The more you know yourself, the more you can leverage that knowledge to seek out appropriate challenges at work and sell your abilities to others.
The exercises aren't difficult. The problems come in using these various statements, so she recommends repeating them at least two times a day to others or, failing that, to yourself, in front of the mirror or while driving. You will have achieved success when after four to eight months, your strengths statements and CAR stories start coming back to you in comments others make about your role in the organization.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter